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Balayage vs Highlights: The Pros Break ‘Em Down

Balayage Color By Jessica Gonzalez

The big debate: balayage vs highlights? If you’re a ride-or-die full highlight girl, your stylist has most likely tried to transition your highlights to balayage. But, if you’re still in the dark about the painting technique, and iffy about whether or not it’s for you, we’ve got your answers. We went straight to the balayage pros and got the 411 on balayage vs foiled highlights.

Balayage Versus Highlight Techniques

Ryan Pearl, colorist at New York’s Cutler Salon explains that “foil lightens the hair from the root to the ends while balayage allows the hair to be softer or muted at the root, and then gets progressively lighter as it travels through to the end.”

Jessica Gonzalez, colorist at Sally Hershberger Los Angeles adds, “The grow out is less obvious with balayage, you can go months without touching it up. I feel sometimes traditional foils can look a little pattern and I like a more freestyle.”

Although balayage is known to process without foils, Stylist Nikki Lee from 901 Salon prefers to use both. “I like to use foils when I balayage ‘foliage’ because the foil helps to speed up the process and can lift the hair lighter than balayage.”

Foliage is the perfect combination of balayage and foiled highlights, Chrissy Rasmussen, owner and stylist at Habit Salon in Arizona tells us about her favorite way of implementing the technique. “Right now, I see that clients love and want ashy, platinum, sun-kissed hair [and] I feel that I can achieve this look by combining these two methods into foliage. I hand paint pieces of hair where I want it in a foil. I feel that using a foil can more consistently pull the clients’ hair past the brassy stage.”

Balayage and highlights Color by Chrissy Rasmussen

The Finished Results 

Ryan tells us, “The end result of a ‘foil high’ is a more consistent and pattern-based look, while a balayage treatment will result in a look that is more free-hand and organic.”

If you’re looking to have more of an all-over blonde look, Nikki explains, “I have more control when I paint in the foil, and can also control exactly how light or dark I want the blonde to be. The end result for traditional highlights is an overall lighter look. The end result for balayage is a slightly darker root melted into lighter ends, which I love!”

Jessica adds, “If you’re more into an overall blonder look or all-over highlights, I would go for the foils because balayage a lot of the time won’t go as blonde as foils.”

Hair by Nikki Lee 901 Salon

How to Choose Which Option Is Best

Nikki tells us, “If you’re an effortless beauty or slightly edgy girl, I would choose balayage, having your ends pop brighter. If you are a classic traditional girl, I would do foils, giving you an all-over light look.”

Chrissy advises keeping your hair type in mind. “The method depends more on the client’s hair. If the hair is virgin, then I feel that balayage is a great option. At Habit Salon, we have 40-50 clients a day looking to get rid of the brass since their hair has been processed so many times. For me, the foliage technique is better for achieving the ‘it-look.'”

Hair by Ryan Pearl Cutler Salon

How to Avoid Damage

Ryan says, “Each process, foiled highlights and balayage, need not result in damaged hair as long as the colorist stays aware of the processing time required to maintain the healthy condition of the hair and the desired end result.”

Nikki explains the possible overlap of previously lightened hair: “When you do traditional highlights you are generally only lightening the new growth, but when you balayage you continue to lighten the already-lightened hair so it is more likely to become damaged.”

Either technique can lift the hair with minimal damage; Ryan adds, “That’s why it is critically important to see a professional colorist, someone that can guide you safely to beautiful hair color that doesn’t leave your hair damaged.”

Color by Nikki Lee


Nikki says, “For traditional highlights, clients tend to come back between 6-8 weeks, but when balayage is done a client can go anywhere between 3-4 months.” Jessica tells us, “With balayage, you can go anywhere from 2-6 months without touching up. The longer you wait the more of the ombré look you will be creating, but if done correctly the grow-out should be seamless.”

Ryan suggests getting yourself on a routine schedule for any coloring service. “Whenever you get your hair colored, it makes good sense to put yourself on a 3-month maintenance schedule. The length of the schedule can vary, of course, depending on how much of a “natural look” you want. If the look that interests you is more “un-natural” than natural, your hair will require significantly more maintenance,” he tells us.

Now that you know the difference between balayage and highlights, discover the difference between balyage and ombré HERE!

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